THE 98 CLUB
A CLEVER WAY TO SPREAD THE LOAD FOR MOTORCYCLE RACE SPONSORSHIP - AND A GREAT DAY OUT
There are moves afoot to allow local authorities to close public roads for motorcycle and motor racing on mainland UK; just like in Ireland, north and south, and the Isle of Man. But there are a couple of places where public Tarmac is already given over to screaming race engines during the year; Aberdare Park in South Wales, and Oliver's Mount in Scarborough, where racing has been organised for over sixty years.
120mph round a hairpin
Imagine a track that is barely the width of a regular B road, and winds its way through a public park with dramatic climbs through woodland, hairpins and a downhill jump taken at speeds of 120mph by the leading racers; all within touching distance of spectators. That's 'the Mount' on the outskirts of this ever popular seaside resort on the Yorkshire coast.
The Auto 66 club runs four motorcycle meetings a year here plus a hillclimb for bikes and cars: and because of the nature of the course they invariably attract an entry from those whose racing desire is for 'real roads'. Including contingents from Ireland.
The Spring Cup
At the first meeting of the year, the Spring Cup held on the 13th April, it's bright but chilly and blustery. You get the impression that the hundreds of riders parked up in the fields are, like me and my friend Helen, glad to spend a motorcycling day without having to choose waterproofs.
Aside from being around the sight, sound and smell of high revving racing engines, burgers and assorted fast food; I'm here because I've sponsored one of the entrants. Paul Owen, number 98, is in his final season after a stint of twenty one years racing on the roads and tracks of Europe, including the Isle of Man.
Why help out a rider at the final stage of his race career you might ask. Surely it's the younger riders who need help and encouragement to get onto the grids? Well it's about respect. I met Paul when I was writing one of the 'This Is Your Bike' articles, about the little race replicas his dad Gareth builds. At the end of my visit Paul showed me his well ordered workshop and race bikes, and we talked about his life on the Irish road circuits he loves, the Isle of Man, and the '98 Club'.
Sponsorship, the key to all consistent sporting achievement these days, is becoming harder to come by for journeyman racers. These are the riders who give spectators their admission monies worth, but are often dicing out in positions further down the field, and out of the commentators immediate focus. Racing could not exist without the money and commitment of this assembly of riders who will not make the pages of MCN or Bike Sport News. They spend thousands of pounds and hours of preparation time on what exhilarates and thrills them and race fans.
Row upon row of names
Paul Owen's Yamaha R6 fairing was covered in row upon row of names. He could see how I looked at this enquiringly and it was then that he explained the idea behind the '98 Club'. Instead of trying to contact and entice a few main sponsors he thought that he would try and gather race support money from small companies and individuals more willing to provide a whole load of ninety eight quids. Crowd sponsorship if you like; and it works, I lobbed up my share.
Unless you're a dedicated follower of road racing you may never have heard of Paul. But his achievements over the past twenty plus years are testimony to the resilience and dedication required to keep his two bikes – the other a race spec Honda Fireblade – on the roads and tracks. To acknowledge all his wins, creditable placings and bikes ridden would take all of the words allowed for this article. So I'll have to be content with picking out some of the notables:
Yamaha TZR 125; Honda RS250; Honda CBR600RR; Yamaha R1; Kawaski ZX10R; JPS Norton Factory Racer
23 wins, 2 second places and 3 third places in one season
Ulster Grand Prix 1st place in 2011
Competed at TT since 1996: 1st 250cc (1000cc open class2004); 8th TTX GP 2013
Fastest lap: 18mins 27secs 122.697mph
Spirit of the TT
In 2010 Paul was given the 'Spirit of the TT award' for stopping to help a fallen rider; New Zealander Paul Dobbs. Dobbs was killed but Paul Owen's act was encapsulated in the words of Dobb's partner Bridgett:
“Paul's selfless and big hearted action on Thursday moved me beyond words. Without hesitation he did everything in his power to help Dobsy. Paul (Owen) truly embodies the spirit of the TT”.
Like I said it's about respect for a rider who is among those who are the essential backbone of the sport. And this year as a low level sponsor in the '98 Club' I'm in exalted company with people who agree with me as Paul Owen is being supported by: John McGuiness, William Dunlop, Bruce Anstey, Michael Rutter, Gary Johnson, James Hillier and a number of other racers and mechanics from the top race teams. Can there be a finer accolade?
Big John's and beyond
I'm usually a bit rubbish in arriving at race meetings in time to catch the start of proceedings – we'd stopped for a warm up and breakfast at Big John's cafe en route. But we scrambled onto the steep grass banking overlooking the start and finish line in time to hear the commentator mention a paddock chat with Paul and the fact that this was to be his final season, and see No 98 move into place near the rear of the grid for the first race of the day.
Paul was placed 15th on his Fireblade out of sixteen finishers: Guy Martin ran off with the win. In the Junior race on board the Yamaha R6 'my rider' was 16th out of eighteen finishers; another Guy Martin benefit, as was the main race of the day, the Ian Watson Cup.
Keep it between the hedges
Next up for No 98 is the North west 200 followed by the TT. I plan to catch up with the action again at Aberdare Park in July, and at his next Oliver's Mount outing. In the meantime 'keep it between the hedges' Paul as they say in Ireland.
For more information on Oliver's Mount races and other meetings organised by the Auto 66 club. Go to www.auto66.com
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